One of my university profs had a knack for explaining complicated chemistry concepts and processes. As he spoke, he watched the students’ expressions. If they looked confused, he would explain again another way—until people clearly “got it.”
His goal was not to get through his lectures; it was to make sure that we understood what he had to tell us.
The extraordinary thing: We all thought that this was extraordinary.
Add More Light Until It All Makes Sense
But wait! This is exactly what should happen. Moms, dads, teachers, trainers, authors, managers, and leaders in whatever walk of life: We should strive to be like that chemistry prof. Those of us who are in the business of helping people learn things should be ready to say it again another way.
In no particular order, here are some ways you can say something again (once you realize that people are puzzled by what you’re saying):
- Ask a few questions and start again—start where people are, not where you wish they could be (don’t talk over their heads)
- Build ideas more slowly—be sure not to skip steps
- Tell a story—one they can relate to that relates to the ideas you’re trying to get across
- Use an analogy—something familiar that is similar in some ways (explain how it’s similar and different)
- Simplify the language—speak in terms familiar to your audience
- Define new terms—especially if they are technical or specialized
- Draw a picture, a diagram, a model to show what you mean
Think ahead: What might people have trouble understanding? Be ready to approach those areas in multiple ways, if needed. What stories can you tell to illustrate your points? What can you use as an analogy or illustration to make things more clear?
Check for understanding as you give your talk or lesson. It’s not enough to have that one student or employee who seems to know everything be able to answer questions. Call on people who don’t always have the answer. Try “Everybody Writes” from Teach Like a Champion.
With some planning ahead and checking along the way we can all be more like that exemplary chemistry prof—and a lot less like his colleague, who regularly harangued his poor students for falling asleep in class. The whole idea is to make sure that people learn what you started out to teach them. A good start is making sure they understand what you are saying.